Forde hopes to have one last dance in Croke Park
While much has been made of the clash of legends in the All-Ireland Intermediate club semi-final as Marc Ó Sé and Seán Cavanagh square up, another great will be hoping for a Croke Park swansong in the other last-four clash.
Ten years after gracing the hallowed sod in an All-Ireland SFC semi-final with Wexford, Matty Forde has the unlikely opportunity to return to GAA HQ one last time after a spectacular club run with Kilanerin.
At 38, the Wexford sharpshooter presumed any visits to Jones' Road would be made as a Wexford spectator to follow the fortunes of the county hurlers or footballers but his timeless class has helped throw up the chance of a lifetime.
One of the most gifted forwards ever to play the game and recognised as GPA Footballer of the Year in 2004, Forde's form is as good as ever and the chronic back injury which forced him out of the county scene seven years ago is far more manageable.
The legs might not have the same zest compared to his prime but his footballing brain hasn't slowed down as he leads a side managed by his brother Pat into battle with Roscommon side Michael Glavey's in Mullingar tomorrow.
"We're only an hour away from Croke Park which is a bit mad because this time last year that looked a million miles away," Wexford's only football All-Star says. "This year has been an unreal journey so far. I remember saying to older lads who I would have played with 20 years ago that I was really going to enjoy this one because the first few senior championships I won, you just think that's going to come every year and you quickly realise that's not the case.
"The county final was the most pressure we've had in a long time because it was the first year of our amalgamation with Tara Rocks (who they already play underage football with) and it was a chance to get back senior. I always said, 'I started my career senior and I want to finish my career senior'."
Fifty-one weeks after commencing training and they're still going strong due to a 17-game unbeaten streak and with over two decades of a club career behind him, he'll gladly stretch the year into another eight days (the final is fixed for February 3).
Talk of Croke Park quickly leads to a comparison with Wexford's low rung on the football ladder compared to the heady days of the noughties, which saw them finish runners-up in Division 1 under Pat Roe in 2005.
Currently operating in Division 3 with nearly a dozen newcomers in Paul McLoughlin's senior squad, Forde fears for 2018 and the surprise defeat of a Dublin third string in the O'Byrne Cup could be as good as it gets.
"It could be a long short year if that makes sense," he says. "Division 3 is going to be really tough with three of the first four games away. You need to get points on the board early and staying in Division 3 this year would be a massive achievement.
"Take out the likes of Brian Malone, Dáithí Waters and Mick Furlong and there's a very raw panel there. Unless you're a Con O'Callaghan, it takes lads time to adapt to that level; it took me three or four years to get that level of conditioning under my belt. I hope I'm wrong but I think it's going to be a tough season."
Forde feels Wexford's plans for underage football development was "non-existent" in recent years - which could lead to a "lost generation" before the Slaneysiders can compete at the top table again - and he understands why players from weaker counties question inter-county commitment.
"If things are going okay, no one questions anything. It's just when times are tough that lads start to have doubts about commitment and whether they need the effort.
"It's much easier to question your involvement when you're playing for a Wicklow, Wexford, Leitrim or an Antrim.
"It is tough going, you sacrifice an awful lot but no one is making you do it either. I can see where they are coming from but looking back I'd probably do it again and I'd probably do it better knowing what I do now."
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